Heading into Hogmanay there were reasons to be cheerful for Dundee Stars’ fans. The previous week they had split the points in a home and home versus Fife Flyers and held out for an impressive road win against league title challengers Belfast Giants. With a record of 12-13-8 the much coveted .500 record, that will be crucial to any playoff aspirations, seemed well within reach. A look ahead at the schedule showed another home and home, this time versus Glasgow Clan as well as a home tie with bottom of the table MK Lightning. Whether the issue was too much turkey or not is still unknown but it felt like a different team returned for the year 2019’s first three fixtures.
As the second half of the season pushes on, you get a sense that the points available in each game matter just that little bit more, and the Devils stayed top of the EIHL table with a 3 – 1 victory over the Manchester Storm on Saturday night.
Coming into the meeting the Devils have had the Storms number all season, a huge difference from last year. In three meetings between the Devils and Ryan Finnerty’s Storm side so far this season, Cardiff have taken all three wins, with Manchester earning one point from an overtime loss.
Rewind to last season and it was a completely different story where the Storm won three out of the four meetings between the sides, earning a point in an overtime loss to take seven of a possible eight points in their fixtures against Cardiff.
But it’s a different Storm side this year having different fortunes. Sure some key guys are back like Mike Hammond, and other guys like Ciaran Long have stepped up in a huge way, but the Storm haven’t been the same side as last year.
But they showed glimpses of it last night.
A remarkable performance from the Manchester Storm second line ensured victory over the lowly Milton Keynes Lightning. In a typically tenacious encounter in Altrincham, there were 68 penalty minutes, 7 goals, 2 fights and 1 game misconduct. What more could you want on the small-ice?
The new NHL season is off and running and, with around 11-12 games gone, while it is still too early for proper trends to be forming, there is enough sample size to get an idea.
A fabulous display of forechecking pressure from the Manchester Storm forwards laid out the blueprint for how to be successful in the Shelter. The Fife Flyers entered with some of the best offensive talent in the league, but they were made to struggle on Saturday night.
The 133 penalty minutes dished out between Manchester and Belfast were somewhat befitting for the occasion at the Shelter, a night dedicated to the Armed Forces. Although, the on ice warfare was largely contained to the 1st period with an absurd 101 PIM’s logged, when on-ice officials struggled to maintain control of mounting frustrations on both team benches.
Manchester Storm vs Dundee Stars (20/10/18)
Matt Ginn returns as starting netminder replacing Jindrich Pacl who shipped five goals against Coventry Blaze. Linden Springer joins Felix-Antoine Poulin on the injury list allowing Dylan Anderson to dress having been a healthy scratch the previous two weekends.
The impressive Pontus Sjögren continues as the starting netminder for the Stars. Ex-Storm player Matt Bissonnette misses out on a return to the Shelter due to injury.
After splitting last weekend’s double header with Coventry Blaze, the Storm returned to the Shelter to face-off against former head coach Omar Pacha and the Dundee Stars in search of a much-needed victory. A lopsided first period saw Manchester Storm jump out to a 3-0 lead at the first intermission, curtesy of two goals from ex- Stars player Riley Stadel and one from Chris Auger. The second period saw the ice tilted again, this time in the favour of Dundee. Three well worked goals, in just over six minutes, from Neilsen, Marquardt and Cownie brought the Stars level after two periods of action. The third period saw a dramatic drop-off in quality from both sides, partially due a deteriorating ice surface, with only six shots apiece mustered on goal. The score remained deadlocked at the end of regulation and looked destined for penalty shots until a rare moment of offensive pressure resulted in Riley Stadel completing his hat-trick. British forward, Ciaran Long, and dual-national Mike Hammond worked a neat play along the boards before shifting the puck across to a wide open Stadel open who for the third time in succession found the top left-hand corner of the Stars goal.
MVP’s: Riley Stadel (Storm) & Matt Marquardt (Stars)
SOG: Storm 28 Stars 31
Sheffield Steelers vs Manchester Storm (21/10/18)
Jackson Whistle returned as the starting netminder after getting pulled in less than 7 minutes against Cardiff Devils on Saturday night. In the forward department, Robert Dowd returned to action this weekend after being injured, Kieran Brown was playing for Blackburn Hawks (after recently signing a two-way contract) and the young Brandon Whistle didn’t dress.
Matt Ginn continued as the starting goaltender after securing victory against Dundee the previous night in Altrincham. Linden Springer and Felix-Antoine Poulin remained sidelined through injury, which meant the adaptable Logan MacMillan would continue to provide cover on the left-hand side of defence. The back-up netminder position was filled by Luke Owen-Wilson who replaced Declan Ryan and young British forward Adam Barnes dressed for the second time this weekend.
After only 17 seconds of play the Steelers were ahead, with Jordan Owens tapping in from close range with assists going to Dowd and Brooks. The led would be doubled in just over 5 minutes time, this time short-handed, when a turnover at the point gifted Sheffield a 2on1 opportunity which was tucked away by Tanner Eberle from Josh Pitt’s cross-ice play. The second period saw another two goals, with Josh Pitt finishing off neatly from a juicy rebound given up by Matt Ginn. The Storm replied through Chris Auger’s, his second goal of the weekend, this time on the powerplay with assists going to MacMillan & Hammond. The tie appeared to be over in the third when Justin Buzzeo took advantage of more lack defensive play by the Manchester Storm when he fired in wide-open from the slot. The response would be quick from Manchester with Shane Bakker scoring less than 30 seconds later. Bakker would later secure a brace with a consolation goal with only 1 second remaining in regulation time. The two points for Sheffield (4-9-0) would be enough to lift them off the foot of the table and Manchester (5-7-0) remain in 8th position.
MVP’s: Josh Pitt (Steelers) & Shane Bakker (Storm)
SOG: Steelers 29 Storm 27
Review: The injuries to Springer and Poulin allowed Dylan Anderson another opportunity this weekend, but with 17 imports signed positions in the forward department are very much under the spot light. The remaining spare import Jindrich Pacl is unlikely to retake the crease after a disappointing performance against Coventry, with tough matches against Belfast and Guildford this weekend. Despite taking two points from the weekend, the lackadaisical play from some players across the season may cost them sooner rather than later.
Feature photo: Dean Woolley/Sheffield Steelers